“Whoever refuses to be warned by the trumpets of judgment (Rev. 8:11) is destroyed by the bowls of wrath.” (see Hendriksen, p. 161, below.)
Note carefully that there is a striking similarity between the seven bowls of God’s wrath in Rev. 16 and the ten plagues upon the Egyptians in Exodus. However, “…the outpouring of each bowl is not a physical action but a symbol of world-devastating judgment that is purposed by God’s sovereign will and executed by His almighty power.” (see Johnson, D. E., below.) The Angels with the bowls come out of the sanctuary of God’s presence. Watch this short film clip (29 secs) summarizing the Exodus plagues.
Chapter 16 teaches us that God will execute His final judgment on the Beast-worshipers
by turning nature itself against unrepentant people.
I. The final judgment strikes servants of the Beast’s health, so that their own bodies turn against them. vs. 2
2 So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image.
In a passage parallel to Leviticus 26, Moses rehearsed on the plains of Moab the sanctions that should motivate Israel to covenantal fidelity: blessings for obedience (Deuteronomy 28:1-14) and curses for disobedience (Deuteronomy 28:15-68). (I linked the verses rather than printing them in this post to save space.)
It is evident to us that the people trusted the Beast to protect them from any and all harm. The mark of the beast, a sign of their loyalty to and trust in him, did not prevent the sores from breaking out on their bodies. The mark was on the head and hand of those who serve him. It is an invisible mark, but demonstrating: (1) their thinking is under his control, and (2) their work is also directed by him. Compare I John 2:15-17—
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
Notice the world system’s gifts to those loyal to the Beast’s cause: (1) things which appeal to the lusts of the flesh—pleasure; (2) things which appeal to the eyes—possessions; and (3) things which appeal to the status of one’s life—position. This list from John’s first epistle gives us what a life looks like that is lived for the Beast’s agenda. It is clear that the beast’s largess will not prevent their suffering.
II. The final judgment strikes the sea, so that it turns against the servants of the Beast. vs. 3
3 The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a corpse, and every living thing died that was in the sea.
This plague will make the sea difficult and distasteful for navigation and trade. The Ancient Romans were so self-centered that they called the Mediterranean Sea simply “Our Sea.” Britain was so Imperial that they have a song children sing at parties—”Rule Britannia.” I heard a group of children singing this at a birthday party when I was in the UK for part of the summer of 1974—
Britannia rule the waves
Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.”
In the final judgment no one will be able to navigate the seas. No one will “rule the waves.” The wildlife in the waters will die and the odor will be oppressive. The phrase “like that of the dead” is added to emphasize the stench. The bloody sea is “corrupt and loathsome.”
III. The final judgment strikes fresh water, so that it turns against the servants of the Beast. vs. 4
4 The third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood.
This plague visits the judgment on the fresh waters. Fresh water turned to blood “signals again an escalation in the intensity of the judgment.” (see Johnson, D. E., below.)
John Martin “Great Day of His Wrath” public domain
image from Wikimedia Commons.
IV. The final judgment will be the fulfillment of the saints prayers in Rev. 6:9-11, that was deferred in Chapter Six. Vss. 5-7
5 And I heard the angel in charge of the waters say, “Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was, for you brought these judgments.
6 For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!”
7 And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are your judgments!”
“They thirsted after blood and massacred the saints of God; and now they have got blood to drink!” (see Clarke, below.) God’s judgments are just and deserved by the persecuters of God’s people.
V. The final judgment strikes the sun, so that it turns against the servants of the Beast. vs. 8
8 The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire. 9 They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.
This plague affects the sun, like the fourth trumpet. However, it has the opposite effect. The fourth trumpet brought darkness to the sun, but the fourth bowl intensifies the heat of the sun. “Given power” reads literally “it was granted to it.” The use of the passive voice indicates an implied divine agency. God granted the sun to harm instead of helping mankind.
“The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah,” John Martin, 1852.
In this verse, the bowl judgments are first called “plagues.” Plēgē is a “wound,” a “blow,” a “stroke,” or a “bruise.” God is the one who has authority (exousia) over these judgments. Since God could stop them, the beast-worshipers curse him (blasphēmeō). Furthermore, they refused to repent (metanoeō) and give God glory (doxa).
All of nature seems to turn against the servants of the Beast in the Final Judgment! The reason the full wrath of God falls on the people in the end is that they are sin-hardened and blasphemous. Another reminder to us that “today is the day of salvation, now is the time of salvation!” (II Corinthians 6:2).
The next time we will look at the last three bowls.
(Commentaries on which I rely without direct quotation)
Beale, G. K. (2015). Revelation: a Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Kindle Edition.
Clarke, A. Accessed 28 January 2021 from https://biblehub.com/commentaries/clarke/revelation/16.htm
ESV. (2001). Accessed 24 June 2020 from https://www.biblegateway.com
Hendriksen, W. (1939). More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. (p. 125).
Johnson, A. F. (1982). Revelation in Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Johnson, D. E. (2001). Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Kenner, C. (2000). The NIV Application Commentary: Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic.
Morris, Leon. (1987). Revelation in Tyndale New Testament Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
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